Steelers halfback Rashard Mendenhall faced considerable fallout earlier this year after his critical remarks via Twitter regarding celebrations over the death of Osama Bin Laden. Perhaps proving that 9-11 conspiracy theorists aren’t quite in the American mainstream, Mendenhall’s endorsement contract with Champion sportswear was voided shortly afterwards, leading to the following lawsuit against Champion’s parent company, Hanesbrands, as detailed by CNBC’s Darren Rovell ;
“This case involves the core question of whether an athlete employed as a celebrity endorser loses the right to express opinions simply because the company whose products he endorses might disagree with some (but not all) of those opinions,” the suit reads.
While the series of tweets, which came soon after Bin Laden’s death was announced, were undoubtedly controversial, what’s not as clear is if Champion had the right to terminate Mendenhall. Champion’s contract with him, which ran through April 2015, does have a version of a morals clause, which specifically says that the company can terminate him if he “commits or is arrested for any crime or becomes involved in any situation or occurrence tending to bring Mendenhall into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend the majority of the consuming public.”
Champion executives obviously thought that they were covered and issued a statement upon Mendenhall’s termination that said the company respected Mendenhall’s “right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics,” but “no longer believe(s) that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion.”